“I hate to say it, but I think we gotta start hitting kids again,” Doug says in a tone which straddles matter-of-factly and I-don’t-like-it-either.

“What the fugk are you even talking about?” Chris asks, having missed the build-up to that last sentence.

“Well, not hitting. Spanking. Basic discipline.” Doug corrects himself.

“Sorry, I haven’t been paying attention. What are you going on about?” Chris asks, still not really paying attention, as he spies on the stranger in the park through the window.

“It’s the internet. People are raised to believe that the cheaply manufactured consensus they create online in their preferred echo chambers holds the same weight as experience. I always thought that whole respect-your-elders thing was bullshit myself, but you cannot really argue against the life experience that sometimes comes with age. Young people are no longer willing to accept that there is anything more valid than whatever opinion can get the most likes.”

“I see,” fibs Chris, who still is not listening.

“So maybe if we start humbling them with some mild violence again, they will learn to recognize the value of lived experience. Or at least start pretending they do long enough to listen, and maybe something will sink in.”

“Have you seen this person before?” Chris changes the subject, and motions Doug to the window.

There is a woman in the park across the street. She is dressed in an expensive skirt suit. Her hair is pulled back into a tight bun and she wears thick-rimmed glasses. Near her is a briefcase, probably full of CEO homework, or lawyering devices. Next to the briefcase is a pair of high-heeled shoes that shine preternaturally in the light of the single lamp in the park, which technically closed an hour ago at sunset. As the woman reaches the zenith of her arc on the swing, she jumps forward and lands gracefully in the sand on her bare feet.

“Gross. What’s with the big business monkey?” Doug curls his lip in disgust.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out while you were busy shooting off at the mouth about beating up kids,” answers Chris.

The woman picks up her briefcase and shoes and moves them closer to the merry-go-round, a rickety old device that could have been installed by the makers of tetanus shots to drum up business. She gives the thing a strong push and then jumps on board, where she lies down on her back in the center and looks up into the sky as the spinning rust collector gradually slows down. After it eventually comes to a full stop she does not move, just lies there staring up, as the two men watch from their window.

There are, in fact, eyes watching from windows in every direction surrounding the park. Leering suspiciously at the newly arrived stranger, who appears to be the kind of person who should be living in a penthouse in a big city, not playing in a park at night in an artist colony buried deep in the Rocky Mountains of Montana. This place is practically a secret from the outside world, and when newcomers arrive, it is usually at the invitation of a resident. This is the first time somebody just showed up unexpected, and definitely the first time some corporate-professional-looking-asshole has indulged their nocturnal inner child at the town’s lone playground.

“I told you the fascists would eventually show up and ruin this place,” Doug laments. “I give it two months before we have a Starbucks and lawn care ordinances.”

“She probably thinks Taylor Swift is an artist and that womanizing the patriarchy is progress,” Chris adds with no attempt to hide his disgust.

“I bet you she drives a large SUV to environmental charity dinners and could club baby seals with her credit score.”

“Where are the bears when you need them?” Chris half jokes, although bears actually do appear in the playground more often than children, let alone top shelf yuppie scum.

The woman finally sits up on the merry-go-round and appears to be sniffing the air. A second later the large frame of Wanda, the metal sculptor and town badass, is seen crossing the park to speak with the stranger. There are no police here, not even a mayor. This village is more like a commune than a town, but on the rare occasion when there is potential trouble, Wanda is the one who deals with the situation. And in this place, a woman like this stranger can be interpreted as nothing else except a high probability of problems.

“Here we go,” Chris announces with an air of relief. “Wanda to the rescue.”

“Take that, fascist!” Doug cheers, although Wanda can not possibly hear him.

The two appear to be having a reasonable, courteous conversation. New woman speaks a lot with her hands, like a textbook politician or other assorted charlatan. Smiles are exchanged and even a few brief moments of laughter are shared by the two women, who could not be more unalike.

Suddenly, with no warning and at a supernatural speed, the well-dressed woman sticks her hand inside Wanda’s mouth, and then keeps reaching in until her elbow has disappeared. She appears to be exploring the insides of the large woman, looking for something particular. As she does so her victim stands perfectly still, not thrashing or trying to escape, but her terrified expression reveals to the window-watchers that she is still alive somehow. A moment later the arm is removed, and the stranger is holding a ball of golden light.

Wanda is kneeling on the ground, coughing and dry heaving, but still apparently living. The other woman smells the ball of light and gives it a lick; then, looking satisfied, places it into her briefcase and puts her shoes on. Calmly, as though something extraordinarily horrifying did not just happen, she walks away from the park and disappears into the night. Moments later half a dozen people rush from their homes to check on Wanda, who is now able to stand and breathe normally. Despite the inextricable spectacle that has just taken place, she appears no worse for the wear.

“Five tons of flax,” Doug says, without any idea where those words came from.

“Hail Eris!” Chris says agreeably, although also unsure why he has spoken the words which he has.

Over the next weeks the village experiences its greatest creative outburst in decades. Painters summon whole new styles of expression, musicians weave together melodies and harmonies catchier than ever before, and the lone novelist pumps out two highly-inspired books in a single week. Nobody can explain what happened, and it doesn’t take long before they just stop trying, because it doesn’t really matter. The intrusion into their normality has shaken the creative juices from them, and where reason cannot penetrate, the imagination works to express their wonder in aesthetic metaphors and spontaneous beauty.

Best of all, no coffee franchises were erected in the making of this renewal, and the bears all lived happily ever after.

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